Friday, October 30, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

I have a yen for more '50s science fiction after attending last weekend's Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival, and I was inspired to watch THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957) by Kristina's recent review at Speakeasy.

Having just seen MONOLITH MONSTERS star Grant Williams in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), I liked the idea of seeing him in a somewhat happier role. The title also seemed like a good choice for Halloween Eve!

Thanks to reader John Knight I happened to have the movie here ready and waiting, so it came out of the "to watch" stack and into the DVD player. It proved to be as enjoyable as Kristina indicated. I wouldn't class it as one of the best sci-fi films I've seen, but it was definitely a solid mid-range effort.

The film includes some of the things I enjoy in these types of films, including a touch of romance and the pleasure of watching a team effort, including law enforcement and medical personnel, coming together to solve a big problem. Is there such a thing as a "sci-fi procedural"? That's rather what this film feels like, and for me that's a good thing.

After watching several sci-fi films last weekend, my husband and I decided "Nothing good ever happens in the desert!" and this film bears that out once more. Unlike many '50s sci-fi films, at least there's not any atomic power involved!

After a meteor lands in the desert, Ben (Paul Harvey), a Dept. of Interior geologist, takes a strange-looking black rock back to the office in the small town of San Angelo. When coworker Dave Miller (Williams) arrives at the office the next day, Ben is there, solid as a rock himself, and there are shards of the rock all over the office.

Dave's girlfriend is a schoolteacher named Cathy (Lola Albright), and on a desert field trip one of her students (Linda Scheley) picks up a rock that looks just like Ben's and takes it home. By that night the little girl's parents are dead, her home destroyed, and she's dying herself, in the process of turning into a rock. Dave and Cathy race the little girl to a specialist in Los Angeles.

The doctor figures out how to reverse the process killing the girl, and just in time, as the rocks are multiplying all around San Angelo! Dave and a fellow scientist (Trevor Bardette) work to use the medical analysis from the doctor to stop the monoliths from destroying San Angelo, and possibly the nation!

This 77-minute film has a very different and rather creative story; I don't think I'll soon forget the giant monoliths popping up out of the ground, then falling over and multiplying as the broken pieces scatter and grow new monoliths. Sci-fi director Jack Arnold was one of the story's cowriters, with the final script by Norman Jolley and Robert Fresco.

I did think it odd that there didn't seem to be much state assistance given such a massive problem -- but it seems as though that's often the case in these types of films, in order to keep the story focused on a small number of characters, and they do at least make reference to the governor planning to fly over the area!

There's not any particular depth to the characters or their relationships, but Williams is cute and Albright is lovely and charming; they make good "movie company." As Kristina mentioned in her own review, there are also nice little bits by a variety of familiar faces.

Les Tremayne plays the town newspaper publisher, and there's a very cute scene with William Schallert as a nerdy weatherman who takes forever to answer the question "How long will it rain?" I think I've seen Schallert in three sci-fi films this week!

The little paperboy near the end is Paul Petersen of THE DONNA REED SHOW, and if you don't blink you'll spot Troy Donahue near the end, in one of his first bit roles. The cast also includes Harry Jackson, Richard Cutting, and William Flaherty, with Paul Frees as the narrator.

This was one of three films directed by longtime assistant director John Sherwood; one of his other directing credits was the unusual Western RAW EDGE (1956), where Yvonne DeCarlo and Rory Calhoun compensate for the oddball plotline.

The movie was filmed by Ellis Carter, who had a long career working on a little bit of everything, especially Westerns and sci-fi -- and even the Frank Capra TV special THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COSMIC RAYS (1957).

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is available on DVD in the Universal Vault Series. It's also part of a Universal sci-fi DVD set.


Blogger Kristina said...

Thanks once again for the link, glad you liked it. Such cool effects, I mean if you can freak me out with what is essentially a giant quartz paperweight then colour me impressed. I loved Williams and Albright as the couple, like you said, nice company and they brought a lot of cute moments to balance the tension. Fun group, fun movie.

7:07 AM  
Blogger john k said...

I am really enjoying this on-going Sci-Fi trend and look forward to your
take on other films especially TARANTULA!
ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE is VERY cheap...after all it's a Bert I Gordon
I am also looking forward to reading your comments on BOBBY WARE IS MISSING
which I really enjoyed.The story is very straightforward but Thomas Carr's direction
is very efficient-he did this one soon after he had made some of the better
Bill Elliott Allied Artists Westerns.
You may recall some time back we had an on-going discussion about "square" actors,
I feel Arthur Franz fits into this description and I always enjoy him in anything
that he is in.Furthermore it's great,for once to see Neville Brand on the right
side of the law.
MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD which you also mentioned might get reviewed;
is terrific very well done with good monsters.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Jan Ostrom said...

I love this movie, something about the very earth we've tamed fighting back! I'm a fan of Lola Albright from PeterG unn. She was a sweet singer. Great review!! Jan

10:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina, I love that, "a giant quartz paperweight"! LOL. The movie really did accomplish a lot with its unusual "monster."

John, thank you so much for your enthusiasm, always greatly appreciated! The cast of BOBBY WARE intrigued me and I tend to enjoy those short Allied Artists films. Thomas Carr's name has definitely been coming up in my viewing lately.

Thanks so much, Jan, glad you enjoyed the post and the movie!

Best wishes,

9:03 AM  

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